I was so excited to be bringing home my first chicks. I had everything prepared a week in advance, spent countless hours reading articles and blogs online, and even rented books from the local library. I stocked up on everything I would need and tried (unsuccessfully) to wait patiently for the chicks to arrive.
The day finally came, we rushed to the post office and drove the hour home deciding names and quessing which chick was what breed. I didn't even think about it when we walked through our front door and our three dogs greeted us tails wagging, heads bumping into our knees.
Then, it finally hit me, after pushing the dogs paws off of the table ledge, eight or ten times.
How do you introduce chickens to dogs?
I searched the almighty Internet for an answer. Instead, horror story after horror story flooded my screen. What was I thinking? You can't introduce dogs to chickens. Predator vs. Prey.
I was heartbroken, my disney themed day dreams of having dogs and chickens frolicking across the lawn, seemed to be shattered, but decided to try my own techniques and use the advice I had been given over the years, about dealing with prey drive.
WHAT IS PREY DRIVE?
Prey drive is an instinctual behavior possessed by all carnivores. It is basically a three stage process; Stalk, Chase, Capture. Dogs who are of working breeds have manipulated prey drives, meaning, through selective breeding and appropriate training, humans have developed dogs who use one or more of the stages of prey drive to complete a specific task ; Herding dogs use the first stage, stalking. Sight hounds use the second stage, chase. Terriers use the third stage, capture.
Signs a dog is exhibiting prey drive: Intense staring, ignores owner or other distractions, refuses to move, body tenses, motionless, crouching, rigid movements, lunging, lips twitching, pupils dilated.
CAN PREY DRIVE BE CONTROLLED?
Well, yes and no.
You can redirect prey drive by engaging in dog sports, such as dock jumping, flyball, frisbee, tracking, agility, spring pole, weight pull, lure coursing, and herding. There are plenty of dog sports to choose from and they are fun and family oriented.
When managing prey drive, exercise is extremely important. Dogs need to do something, and will do anything, to burn off all the pent up energy. This includes behaviors and actions that we find a nuisance.
You can not extinguish prey drive all together, but you can manage it and teach your dog what is acceptable to use his prey drive on and what isn't.
BEING A PACK LEADER
It is vital that you establish pack leader status, wether you own one dog or five. Your dog should look to you in a situation, not act out of fear or excitement. You can develop a great bond and show your dog you are the pack leader by taking walks side by side, obedience training, and being responsive and repetitive with consequences and rewards.
TRAINING IS IMPORTANT
Having a dog who already responds to commands is great! If your dog has never been worked with in obedience(or even general manners), this will be the biggest problem in introducing him to chickens. If your dog has no respect for you, why would he when some squawking, plump, exotic prey is placed within reach? Gather your patience, make some time, and start training today. Contact a self employed or profession obedience trainer, if you need to! They are there to help!
SUPPLIES & TOOLS FOR TRAINING
I suggest speaking with a trainer or reading as many articles as possible, join dog training forums, and ask plenty of questions. Watch dog training videos on youtube, even.
I suggest the following items at the very least;
Clicker- Clicker training is one of the most successful methods of training. It is a must have tool in my opinion.
6' Leash- To work on sit-stay, down-stay, etc.
Choke Chain type collar, Prong collar- So the dog can not slip out, for corrections, and for getting the dogs attention. [SEE PHOTO BELOW FOR PROPER COLLAR PLACEMENT DURING TRAINING], or a head halter.
Muzzle- For introducing dogs around any animals or people, when prey drive or aggression is a concern.
Treat Bag- Easy access to treats for quickly rewarding your dog.
High quality treats- You want treats that your dog will seriously be interested in. Cooked chicken or beef are my dogs favorites.
TAKING STEPS WORKING SLOWLY AND CONSISTENTLY
Exercise. Keep your dog busy, take walks, jogs, engage in vigorous play times, or activities.
Train. Teach your dog commands and work consistently. Teach your dog the "leave it" command, this command is one of the most important he will ever learn. Another great command to teach is "focus". This is useful for keeping your dog's attention directly on you, regardless of what is going on around it.
Train Near Chickens. Once your dog has commands down perfectly, begin distraction training. Train your dog within 10 feet of the chickens. Repeat, stay consistent, and be patient. Each training session, move a foot or two closer, but, if your dog becomes too distracted, take a few steps back. You may need to start off at an even greater distance- just go with the flow.
Muzzle & Introduce To A Chicken. Leash and muzzle your dog, enter the chicken pen, and practice obedience commands. IF your dog attempts to harm your chicken, start back at training near the chickens, from outside of the pen for a while longer. Move closer to the chickens run every few days. Then try again. Always correct and reward when appropriate. Stay consistent, or your dog will end up confused and you even more frustrated than before. *NOTE: ALWAYS introduce a chicken, back end first while the dog is muzzled! If the dog tries to bite the chicken, it won't be as easy to grab a head or etc.
Muzzle & Allow Off leash. Once your dog can successfully be on a leash and muzzled near the chickens, you can try to allow your dog loose with them, in an enclosed dog run or even the chicken pen. Make sure you practice commands while your dog is loose. If the dog ignores you, leash him and continue with training in the chicken pen. You may also want to buy what is called a long leash- let the dog have as much slack as needed, but you can correct him and reel him back to you if he goes after the chickens.
Un-Muzzled interactions. This is something you don't want to try alone. You also need to trust that your dog is ready for being un-muzzled near chickens. LEASH on. You want to be able to correct and prevent death to a chicken. Do not set your dog up to fail. Keep the dog leashed. Walk around the chickens, while practicing obedience. Reward when your dog obeys and if he tries to get close to a chicken, use the "leave it" command and correct then praise.
Finally, when the dog has completed all the above, you can test your dog, if you feel he is ready. This can be nerve wracking, but there is no other way to truly test your pooch. Leave your dog un-leashed and un-muzzled, and take him next to the chicken pen first. If he becomes agitated or aggressive, excited or begins staring too intensely, leash him and keep working. If he doesn't seem overly concerned (and you are brave enough) , walk into the pen first. Allow him in, as he enters, tell him "leave it". If your dog ignores you, grab him and leash him. This should only be done once your dog has proven with the other steps that he is not interested in the chickens, and more interested in you.
LIVING WITH A HIGH PREY DRIVE DOG
Unfortunately, some dogs will never be able to be trusted with chickens. When this happens it can be devastating to an owner. There are only a few options.
You can either rehome the dog, build a secure chicken coop and run, or build the dog a secure kennel. Contrary to beliefs, this does not mean your dog will lead a miserable life. You can easily and securely build a large horse panel or cattle panel dog kennel without breaking bank. This is the best site I can find for building one of these kennels- http://wolfdogproject.com/fencing.html
If you are not seeing results with training and exercise, an E - Collar can be used to break a bad habit, like going after chickens. I would suggest this in a situation where none of the above has worked and after talking to a dog trainer and learning how to properly use an E-Collar.
It may take days, weeks, or months, but in the long run, you will be glad you went through the hard work to train and introduce your dog properly to your chickens. Remember, a dog will always be a dog, at heart and should never be left unsupervised with chickens.